By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Once a year, Meredith Craig gets her hands all dirty with money. It’s her own fault.
“This is my labor of love. I don’t mind counting the money,” she said. “I don’t mind sorting it out.”
Craig, 29, is a pre-kindergarten teacher at King Early Childhood Education Center in Tupelo. About five years ago, she wanted to get her 4- and 5-year-old students more connected to the world around them.
“We were trying to think of ways to get the students involved in the community, to get them involved with something that had a real-life connection with their learning,” the Nettleton resident said.
She came up with Pennies for Paws, a fundraising effort for the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society. It coincides with the students’ animal unit, which teaches them where different animals live.
“We don’t want to exclude this,” she said, leaning against the animal shelter’s sign. “We want them to know that some animals don’t have homes.”
The program started small the first year, but it raised more than $1,000 last year. The kids participate, as do ECEC staff members.
“They’re excited when they bring something in and put it in the change bucket. They’re really involved,” Craig said, “and even though they’re young, they really do understand this money is going to cats and dogs that don’t have homes.”
Craig came by her love of animals honestly.
“We’ve always had dogs and cats – always,” she said. “My dad is an even bigger animal over than I am, so I got it from him.”
She and her husband have two dogs, Buttercup and Fred, and two cats, Tubbs and Biscuit. Every time she visits the shelter, she wants to bring another dog home, but that’s forbidden for good reason. The Craigs have a new arrival due in February.
“I’m told that because we’re having a baby, I can’t have any more pets,” said Craig, who seems to have accepted the rule, even though several puppies caught her eye during a recent visit to the shelter.
It helps to know she and the students make the animals’ lives better in other ways. Most of the money collected goes straight to the Humane Society, but she spends some on dog food, cat food, litter and other necessities.
“It’s just called Pennies for Paws,” she said. “We accept all donations.”
A lot of times, parents dump their change jars and send them to school, so Craig has to get her hands dirty.
“There are buttons and things in there I have to sort out,” she said.
She counts the money and declares one class a winner, which is important among the competitive 4- and 5-year-old set.
“We want to recognize them. We have a popsicle or popcorn party,” she said. “It’s not hard to please them.”